An MIT education should enlarge an individual’s realms of knowledge, awareness, expression, and ability — and so should include not only a common experience in the sciences and mathematics, but a serious exploration of the humanities, arts, and social sciences, and a continuing conversation among these fields. This conviction is reflected in the core academic program for all undergraduates, regardless of their major field of study, which gives equal weight to mathematics and the sciences on the one hand and the humanities, arts and social sciences on the other.
The goal of the School of Humanities and Social Science — which next year celebrates its 50th anniversary — is to offer students the chance to explore the fruits of the human imagination; to examine the causes and consequences of social, economic, and political change; and to gain understanding of the cultural and institutional contexts in which science and technology are rooted.
Over the years, faculty and students in the School have defined and redefined the principles of economics and linguistics, have built an extraordinary music program, have sought and forged the links among fields bearing on science, technology and society, have used information technology to breathe new vitality into the study of classic literature, and have turned a critical lens on the various media that reflect and influence our society.
For over a century, MIT’s Department of Economics has had an extraordinary influence worldwide on the field, with three of its faculty — Franco Modigliani, Paul Samuelson, and Robert Solow — holding Nobel Prizes. (Paul Samuelson’s Economics: An Introductory Analysis, first published in 1948, became the best-selling economics text in the world, selling more than 3 million copies in 13 languages.)
The field of modern linguistics also took shape at MIT, sparked by Noam Chomsky, whose revolutionary theories on the nature of language transformed the field and have had profound implications for our understanding of the brain, mind, and the way we communicate.
The arts at MIT began in 1868 with the establishment of the first School of Architecture in the United States. Now, the arts are thriving here both in the curriculum and in campus activities. More than half of all undergraduates take classes in the arts, with music the most popular of all arts courses. Each year MIT is the site of 500 music, theater, and dance events presented by the Institute’s 35 performing groups.
MIT is a national leader in learning in the humanities through new media. The Shakespeare project, for example, has gained international recognition for its innovative approach to linking traditional Shakespeare scholarship with new multimedia technologies. And the interactive multimedia programs in foreign languages and literature offer students a revolutionary way to learn. By combining computers and interactive video, they can be transported to other cultures to learn and practice their skills in different languages.
The Science, Technology and Society (STS) program is a unique interdisciplinary enterprise where faculty and students explore how politics, culture, and ethics shape science and technology, and vice versa. And last May the faculty voted to establish a new master’s degree in comparative media studies. More than 25 faculty members from a range of disciplines will be involved.
To better prepare students to live and work in a global society, an international theme pervades several domains of the School — from foreign languages which emphasize culture and bilingual experience — to the MIT Asia programs, which immerse students in a culture and then sends them to work in that culture.
As tomorrow’s leaders, students must be able to solve problems whose complexity requires not only logic and quantitative analysis, but also synthesis and qualitative reasoning. Whatever our profession or chosen calling, all of us need to expand our imaginations, broaden our perspectives, and open our minds to new possibilities. The humanities, arts, and social sciences are essential to our ability to think critically and creatively, and thereby to lead richer and more fulfilling lives.